While the Abominable Snowman was haunting the Himalayas, school teacher J.W. Burns found accounts of hairy hominids throughout the Native American folklore of western Canada. In the 1920s Burns worked as a teacher on the Chehalis Indian Reservation, near Vancouver, British Columbia. Intrigued by stories told by the locals of hairy giants, he began to seek out and record the tales, both folkloric and eyewitness accounts. In April 1929 his article 'Introducing B.C.'s Hairy Giants' was published in MacLean's magazine, drawing widespread attention, for the first time, to the legend of the Sasquatch. His stories were subsequently told and retold in other magazines and newspapers.
Among those whose stories Burns tells is Peter Williams, a resident of the Chehalis Reserve. In the month of May, some twenty years earlier, Williams claimed to have encountered a Sasquatch a mile from the reserve. Hearing a nearby grunt, he turned to see what he thought at first was a huge bear, crouching on a rock. As Williams lifted his gun to shoot, the creature stood up on two legs and let out a scream. Instead of a bear, Williams beheld a man, over six feet tall and covered with hair. In a rage, the creature jumped to the ground and charged. Williams ran to the river and leaped into his boat, thinking that he had escaped. The creature, however, simply waded across the fast-moving water. Reaching his home, Williams rushed in and locked and barricaded the door.
'After an anxious waiting of twenty minutes,' resumed the Indian, 'I heard a noise approaching like the trampling of a horse. I looked through a crack in the old wall. It was the giant. Darkness had not yet set in and I had a good look at him. Except that he was covered with hair and twice the bulk of the average man, there was nothing to distinguish him from the rest of us. He pushed against the wall of the old house with such force that it shook back and forth. The old cedar shook and timbers creaked and groaned so much under the strain that I was afraid it would fall down and kill us. I whispered to the old woman to take the children under the bed.' (www.westcoast-sasquatch.com)
After a while the creature gave up his assault on the house and disappeared back into the wilderness. The next morning, Williams found tracks in the mud. They were 22 inches long.
Burns also includes the story of Charley Victor, of the Skwah Reserve. It is Victor who introduces the term 'Sasquatch,' or 'hairy mountain men,' to describe the giants. Victor claimed to have had many encounters with the creatures, including one encounter that resulted in the shooting of a Sasquatch youth. When his dog treed what he thought was a bear, Victor shot his gun only to learn that it was a naked boy, 12 or 14 years of age. The injured boy began to howl for help and was soon answered by a Sasquatch woman, covered with hair and standing around six feet tall.
'In my time,' said the old man, 'and this is no boast, I have in more than one emergency strangled bears with my hands, but I'm sure if that wild woman laid hands on me, she'd break every bone in my body. She cast a hasty glance at the boy. Her face took on a demoniacal expression when she saw he was bleeding. She turned upon me savagely, and in the Douglas tongue said: 'You have shot my friend.'
I explained in the same language - for I'm part Douglas myself - that I had mistaken the boy for a bear and that I was sorry. She did not reply but began a sort of wild frisk or dance around the boy, chanting in a loud voice for a minute or two, and, as if in answer to her, from the distant woods came the same sort of chanting troll. In her hand she carried something like a snake, about six feet in length, but thinking over the matter since, I believe it was the intestine of some animal. But whatever it was, she constantly struck the ground with it. She picked up the boy with one hairy hand, with as much ease as if he had been a wax doll.
While Victor felt certain that the female was of the Sasquatch tribe, he was also convinced that the boy was not. Not only was his skin white and mostly hairless, but the female had called him her friend. Victor surmised that the Sasquatch people must have stolen him.
Perhaps Burns' most tantalizing story is his account of the Native American girl Serephine Long, who claimed to have been kidnapped and forced to live among the Sasquatch. Burns records her story:
I was walking toward home one day many years ago carrying a big bundle of cedar roots and thinking of the young brave Qualac
(Thunderbolt), I was soon to marry. Suddenly, at a place where the bush grew close and
thick beside the trail, a long arm w shot out and a big hairy hand THE BUSH GREW CLOSE TO THE
was pressed over my mouth. TRAIL, A LONG ARM SHOT OUT Then I was suddenly lifted
up into the arms of a young
Sasquatch. I was terrified, PRESSED OVER MY MOUTH } fought, and struggled with all my might. In those days, I was strong. But it was no good, the wild man was as powerful as a young bear. Holding me easily under one arm, with his other hand he smeared tree gum over my eyes, sticking them shut so that I could not see where he was taking me. He then lifted me to his shoulder and started to run.
After a long journey in which the Sasquatch carried her across a river, up and down hills and mountains, and through a long tunnel, Serephine was placed on the ground.
I heard people talking in a strange tongue I could not understand. The young giant next wiped the sticky tree gum from my eyelids and I was able to look around me. I sat up and saw that I was in a great big cave. The floor was covered with animal skins, soft to touch and better preserved than we preserve them. A small fire in the middle of the floor gave all the light there was. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom I saw that beside the young giant who had brought me to the cave there were two other wild people - a man and a woman. To me, a young girl, they seemed very, very old, but they were active and friendly and later I learned that they were the parents of the young Sasquatch who had stolen me. When they all came over to look at me I cried and asked them to let me go. They just smiled and shook their heads. From then on I was kept a close prisoner; not once would they let me go out of the cave. Always one of them stayed with me when the other two were away.
Serephine claimed to have lived with the giants for nearly a year. During that time she was fed roots, fish, and meat. She even learned a few words of their dialect, which was similar to the Douglas language. Finally, after becoming dangerously ill, she was able to convince the young Sasquatch to take her back to her home. She pleaded with him to allow her to see her family before she died. Sticking her eyelids together once again, the young male carried her back to her village. She described her return home to Burns:
My people were all wildly excited when I stumbled back into the house for they had long ago given me up as dead. But I was too sick and weak to talk. I just managed to crawl into bed and that night I gave birth to a child. The little one lived only a few hours, for which I have always been thankful. I hope that never again shall I see a Sasquatch.
Burns' Native American Sasquatch stories were received with delight by residents of the area, and for a while the village of Harrison Hot Springs hosted an annual Sasquatch Festival. Though interest had largely waned by that time, in 1957 the village once again took advantage of the notoriety sparked by the tales to draw attention to their region during British Columbia's centennial celebration. In honor of the occasion the village council at Harrison Hot Springs decided to use funds designated for the celebration to sponsor a Sasquatch hunt. According to Bigfoot researcher John Green's account, the idea proved to be a great success. Though the hunt never actually took place, the story was picked up by the press and served to focus attention on the region and revive interest in the Sasquatch (Green, 4). Soon, sparked by the renewed interest in the creatures, individuals came forward with new stories of encounters with Sasquatch. These tales would take the basics of Burns' stories in new directions and would come to be regarded as classics in the field of Bigfoot studies.
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